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To an Ant, a flower is a giant.

In the present unstable political climate, when the world seems to be teetering on the verge of a great conflict, the likes of which haven’t been seen in Europe since WW2, my mind, perhaps naturally, wandered to the extremes to which this conflict might (but hopefully won’t) go – the threat of nuclear annihilation, which has been tucked away from the public eye since the Cold War, but remained ever present in the deepest recesses of our minds since Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

And no deeper and more ambiguous shadow did the mushroom cloud cast than on the Japanese consciousness, as you can see in a myriad of their art, movies, novels etc… The shadow of both horror, shock, deep resentment and helplessness, but also one of almost shame and justice received.

This ambiguity is beautifully articulated by author and illustrator Yoshihiro Togashi in his immensely popular manga and anime series HunterxHunter, at the end of the Chimera Ant arc. The Chimera Ants (the result of mixing of both human and ant genetic material) can arguably be interpreted as the WWII Japanese ‘stand-ins’, a vicious threat to the world, but even then the humans that ‘dropped’ the ‘rose’ (a nuclear type-weapon) become the greater villain, unable to see the emotional evolution of the Ants, and only keen on revenge for the Ants (undoubtful) atrocities, despite the fact that the conflict was actually wanning.

Sparkly, isn’t it?

Yoshihiro Togashi, who is perhaps best known for HunterxHunter (but also, let’s not forget the beautiful YuYu Hakusho) is, to my mind, a great artist, with an immensely fruitful mind. Even a simple turn of a phrase becomes laden with meanings in the hands of such a master. And there is perhaps none better to exemplify this but the name of his weapon of mass destruction Poor Man’s Rose, a crystal-clear allusion to the atom bomb, but with its slightly changed depiction also a great comment on its nature and social meaning.

Also called the “Miniature Rose”, “Poor Man’s Rose” is a type of a cheap and easily made, but devastatingly deadly nuclear weapon which instead of a mushroom-like explosion features a flower-like explosion. The deadliest part is its radioactive fallout, which is ingeniously connected to the rose’s “smell” – as the rose opens, you just know that the radiation, “the scent” of the rose will reach you – in a terrible subversion of the enjoyment of life, you are going to “smell the rose(s)”.

The Poor Man’s” part has a triple meaning – one reason for the name is that it’s a weapon which even small dictatorships can make (so the dictator prepared to use them becomes the titular “poor man”). The second is tied to its victims – whoever sees the ‘beautiful’ rose becomes a ‘poor man’ soon to be dead. But there is also the third meaning, and that is that the “rose” with its appearance brings relief to the tortured soul. In this interpretation “Poor Man’s Rose” becomes synonymous with Death itself, welcomed as ‘beautiful’ by the victimized and the unlucky.

Then, that the ‘Rose’ is called the “Miniature Rose” brings other interpretations still. It brings to mind the “Big Mushroom”, the image most associated with a nuclear explosion. ‘Rose’s’ explosion is also big, but that it’s still called ‘miniature’ brings to mind not only an ironic twist, but also that when you use it, because of the great numbers of people it can wipe out, you make people insignificant, wiped out by an usually small flower.

In this context even the choice of the ‘Ants’ as enemies becomes very meaningful as well. ‘Ants’ are proverbially numerous, but also weak. We usually think them interchangeable and their lives as completely insignificant, beneath our notice. To an ant a flower is a giant.

And that is what nuclear weapons do to human lives – they render them as insignificant as ants, they are the worst tool of dehumanization.

Stalin famously said that “a million (dead) is a statistic”. This is true because the human mind, which presumably evolved over many thousands of years in smaller groups, cannot really function with those kinds of numbers and still retain the sense of every one of that million as fully human. However, aside this statement being true, it also says something about the man who said it. It tells you that Stalin has no problem dehumanizing others.

And that is Yoshihiro Togashi’s message as well. The people who dropped the ‘rose’ dehumanized the Ants, and killed in their desire for revenge, and not only those who committed the atrocities. A man who also detonates a “miniature rose” is Gon himself, Togashi’s main character. Similarly to the stress we put on atoms to produce great explosions, so does Gon make a condition on himself, and unleashes great power, by which he doesn’t accomplish much, and it blows in his face, rendering him into something almost inhuman.

After this, Gon manages to get better (through his friend’s immense sacrifice), but loses his Nen abilities completely. That seems right, no matter how much we have previously liked Gon. Completely losing your power should, after all, be the smallest of prices for unleashing great power with the aim of dehumanizing others.


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